Colorant Makers Become Key Allies in Meeting Need for Naturally Derived Colorants

Colorant makers are becoming key allies in helping food and beverage companies meet growing demands for naturally derived colorants.

By David Feder, RD, Technical Editor

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Lyco Red
Photo: Lycored

Lycored Ltd. (, focuses almost exclusively on carotenoid-based functional colorants, especially lycopene. Its Tomat-O-Red lycopene ingredient recently received permission in the EU to be used as a component of “foods for special medical purposes at the level needed for the particular nutritional use.” It can be thus included (in established amounts) in claims for sports/energy products, weight reduction and other functional foods.

“Lycopene has been the subject of many clinical trials that repeatedly demonstrated its healthful properties,” says Andrew Kendrick, Lycored’s international technical development manager. “Tomat-O-Red has not been chemically modified in any way, and as such is ideal as a natural color in product development and reformulation to meet the current trend for natural colors.”

Tomat-O-Red is available in powder and liquid forms, with formulations based on dispersions of micronized lycopene crystals. “An advantage of such formulation types is no migration or bleeding of color between phases, as with other natural red colors,” Kendrick says.

Color in foods and beverages also “drives other sensory attributes of the products, defines the nutritional value of the products and provides an emotional attribute that drives consumer behavior,” according to Soumya Roy, senior principal scientist-R&D for Ocean Spray Inc. (, Lakeville, Mass.

“Color intensity provides the perception of flavor [and] the image of the product. Color plays an important role in Ocean Spray value positioning regarding taste,” Roy notes, conveying “bold signature flavors, sensorial and cognitive stimuli and cranberry health benefits.”

One case study Roy cites involves the reformulation of a cranberry blend, in which the reformulation had a slightly lighter color. Focus testing showed the test product to be less acceptable than the control.

“Color has been proven to drive other sensory attributes and can serve to define the nutritional value of products,” he continues. “Tomato ketchup historically is red [and] other colors are contradictions. ‘Cranberry’ is a color, while ‘white cranberry’ is a contradiction. Color provides meaning that is culturally and historically based, and color is a key carrier of brand equity.”

He also says color adds to the consumer value proposition. “It defines the image of food products. Color drives the emotional attributes associated with the product. Companies can capitalize on the multi-dimensional aspect of color to communicate the value of their brands.”

Overcoming obstacles

Wild Flavors Tea
Photo: Wild Flavors

Using carotenoid colorants in clear beverages, however, can pose certain disadvantages. “Obtaining clarity in beverages, specifically with orange and yellow colors, has posed challenges to developers,” says Chad Ford product manager for colors and specialty ingredients at Wild Flavors Inc. (, Erlanger, Ky.

“Turmeric provides a vibrant yellow shade, but is unstable in the presence of light, while annatto is not acid-stable,” Ford adds. “[Other] carotenes provide the best option for stability, but are oil-soluble [and] come with some haze due to carriers or emulsifiers.”

Wild developed patent-pending technology to deliver water-soluble, acid-stable orange and yellow colors without the opacity problem. Its clear beta-carotene, apo-carotenal and paprika emulsions are part of its “Colors from Nature” line.

Yellow colorants can pose other hurdles, especially when one must balance between “naturalness” and vividness. “At Lawrence Foods we frequently face color challenges that result from the performance needs of our customers,” says Boyd. “For instance, with fruit fillings we generally use little added color because the fruit supplies us with most of what we need. But in one recent case we were asked to give a fruit filling a certain intensity of appearance.”

Initially, Boyd looked at FD&C Yellow No. 5 for its brightness and compatibility with the fruit component of the client’s product. “It worked well,” he explains, “but we found that [instead] adding a small amount of turmeric oleoresin also gave the desired color, so we were able to offer the customer the option of a natural color. This turned out to be a better fit with the customer’s marketing needs.” Boyd cautions that turmeric can be highly light sensitive and recommends using it only in applications where light exposure will be minimal.

“Natural colors have challenges with stability compared to artificial colors,” warns Jones. “High temperatures and rough treatment — natural colors just can’t handle them.” Consumer expectations play a role as well. “Synthetic red is very strong, for example. We can’t reproduce that on the natural side to the same strength and concentration. Additionally, there are natural variations. We work hard to eliminate these, but natural colors are ‘natural,’ after all.”

Stable, natural blue and green colors for certain applications are difficult, according to Ellen Grinde, director of corporate communications for Sensient. “Sensient has been successful in providing stable, natural blues and greens in baked goods and confection applications,” she said, but beverages and dairy are challenges for those colors.

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